Eleven billion reasons the state is already funding transit

A GRTA Xpress bus leaves after picking up passengers at the Dunwoody Marta Station. (Branden Camp / Special)

A GRTA Xpress bus leaves after picking up passengers at the Dunwoody Marta Station. (Branden Camp / Special)

The state on Wednesday finally revealed the winners of $75 million worth of grants to transit agencies funded in last year’s budget. Transit agencies and advocates welcomed the news, while cautioning that it represents a drop in the bucket of what’s ultimately needed.

So what if I told you that $75 million is, itself, only a drop in the bucket of what the state is spending on transit? That, between projects already under construction and those on the docket for the next decade or so, the state will be spending almost $11 billion — with a “B” — to boost transit infrastructure?

You might laugh. If so, you might be thinking about it the wrong way.

For decades, most people have thought of transit as being distinct from roads. When the two were mashed together, it was in the context of buses sharing still-clogged roads with the very cars bus riders were trying to escape. Limited appeal there, understandably.

But the $11 billion I’m talking about represents a better way of thinking about transit and roads. It’s money for double-duty infrastructure that helps people move more quickly, whether they drive themselves or not.

By now you may have guessed I’m talking about the growing network of tolled express lanes the Georgia DOT is building and planning for metro Atlanta’s interstates. A trio of projects under way on Interstates 85, 75 and 575 north of Atlanta, and on I-75 south of town, will bring the total number of miles covered by these lanes to more than 67.

Earlier this year, GDOT revealed that some of the $900 million a year raised by the 2015 transportation bill will go toward connecting and expanding those spurs, adding almost 55 miles to the total. By the time that next phase of construction is finished, one will be able to travel from Acworth to Braselton, or from Vinings to Alpharetta, in lanes priced to keep traffic flowing freely.

And that trip will be possible in one’s own car, or on a bus.

Buses are allowed to use the lanes at no charge, and they’ll be all the more attractive if demand keeps prices high for everyone else. (The toll rates rise and fall in real time based on how many vehicles are using the lane, to keep traffic in them moving at a minimum of 45 mph.)

The state’s Xpress buses already carry 2 million passengers per year, even though the best they offer is a trip in HOV lanes, which can become just as clogged as regular lanes. (This is one reason the tolled lanes are preferable to HOV lanes.) How much more appealing will they be — or MARTA buses, or Gwinnett or Cobb buses — if they slide past slow-moving traffic for a couple of dozen miles at a time? And then connect to MARTA’s existing rail outposts along the Perimeter?

That is transit expansion, just as surely as building more rail beyond those outposts would be.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for additional transit expansion the way people typically think of it, either within Atlanta’s city limits as MARTA is now seeking via referendum or elsewhere. It just means the state is already in the business of building transit infrastructure, even if many people don’t give it the credit.

Reader Comments 0

17 comments
bu22
bu22

Building HOV lanes is done by the transit agencies in Texas.  It is a form of mass transit.  HOT lanes are a way to get users to help pay for it.

Ashr QayyUm
Ashr QayyUm

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lvg
lvg

@crwatl Yeah but those 2 million get to ride with different kinds of folks than the common folks on  MARTA who pay a lot less and don't ride in those fancy buses.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Isn't it weird how folks who understand how cap-and-trade would work to limit carbon emissions are unable to understand how PeachPass lanes work?

It's almost as if they're determined to remain (or feign) ignorant.

lvg
lvg

GOP  idiots at state level cannot make up their minds if mass transit is a top priority for express lanes or if giving those with money to burn   an opportunity to pay for and use a special lane.Can't be both.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg Actually, it is both. The price goes up on account of the buses' presence. You might want to inform yourself before calling others idiots.

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @lvg Oh and I assume the fee paying individually driven cars do not impede the buses and high capacity vehicles during rush hour but they are there  just so state can say they "privatized" these lanes to earn income? Kind of bipolar and schizophrenic ( more palatable terms for idiot)

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg You really don't understand the concept.

The goal is to keep traffic in the lane moving at a minimum of 45 mph. As more vehicles get in and speeds slow from 70 mph or 65 mph or whatever they had been, the price goes up to deter other motorists from using the lane. Buses enter the lane for free but affect the prevailing speed, driving up the price for everyone else without undermining the goal of through-put at 45 mph.

It really isn't difficult to understand, if you're interested in understanding rather than just making blind insults.

LikeMadison
LikeMadison

We live in the least-dense metropolitan area in the world. Transit will never be a real solution.  Only continuous-flow east-west arteries can provide real congestion relief.

bu22
bu22

@LikeMadison Rail will not be a solution for much of the area.  Buses can help.  We aren't the least dense metro area in the world, but we are #49 (just behind Charlotte) of the top 50 metro areas in the US.  And you have to go down to #27 Pittsburg to find an area that is not at least 30% more dense than Atlanta.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_areas

coolray
coolray

Am I helping to spread Zika by producing blood? Your reasoning is deeply flawed!

Gandolph
Gandolph

Poor solution to years, no decades, of neglect in failing to keep road construction on pace with growth and demand.  That, of course, is not to even mention politicizing the non-existent "outer perimeter".  But taxation has always been there though.

bu22
bu22

@Gandolph Atlanta did virtually nothing from the mid 90s until the last few years on roads or transit despite massive population growth.  Extending MARTA one stop in the north was just about it.

PJ25
PJ25

This is great news.  Keep those pay to play lanes coming and I'll gladly help pay for them by using them.